CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. - David Lee was drafted by Isiah Thomas and enjoyed a good relationship with him when they were both with the Knicks. Still, Lee admits to being "very surprised" Friday when he flipped on ESPN and learned that Thomas had been rehired by the team to work as a consultant.
"It was surprising simply because a lot of people made him the fall guy for everything that has happened around here the last seven or eight years," Lee said Monday while taking a break from his basketball camp in Westchester County. "It may work out to be a positive, but I was surprised to hear it."
It's been a month since Lee was on the Knicks' roster, though he still considers himself a New Yorker and plans to live here in the offseason. Lee knew he was a goner the moment the team signed free agent Amar'e Stoudemire. It became official July 9 when the team completed a sign-and-trade deal that sent Lee to the Golden State Warriors for Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf.
Though Lee's time at the Garden may be over, his perspective on Thomas is an interesting one in that Lee's acquisition is widely considered to be one of the best moves Thomas made while he was running the Knicks. Thomas was removed as coach and team president in April 2008, after spending five years with the team.
Thomas drafted Lee, who averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds last season, with the 30th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Lee believes many of Thomas' problems when he was with the Knicks stemmed from relying on the wrong people.
"I think some of the mistakes he did make was that as a general manager, he put faith in a lot of people that didn't really reciprocate," Lee said. "The one that's always pointed to is the Stephon Marbury situation. Having Marbury make as much money as he did in New York and that situation not working out.
"That could happen to any general manager, but in New York with all the media, that can get blown out of proportion . . . It's going to be interesting to see what fans make of it."
Lee said he heard the talk that Knicks management was interested in bringing Thomas back because they didn't think that the players of today could relate to team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni when it came to the recruiting process. But he isn't buying it.
"I think that [thinking] is definitely a result of LeBron James deciding to go somewhere else, but it isn't like [Heat coach] Pat Riley is a 25-year-old guy and he found a way to get it done," Lee said. "I don't think it was lack of a good sales pitch. I think it was LeBron deciding to go to Miami with a couple of other guys."
No one is sure exactly what Thomas will be doing as a consultant - he will also be keeping his coaching job at Florida International - but Lee believes there are good things he can bring to the team. The Knicks are trying to position themselves to get a plum free agent, such as Carmelo Anthony, to go with Stoudemire next season.
Said Lee: "I thought just because of the media reaction when he was finished here originally that this wouldn't be something that they would revisit. But it could be a positive. I think Isiah has an unbelievable basketball mind."